Street Playhouse has Gypsy running through October20 while Sonoma Arts Live has Merman’s Apprentice, an original musicalwith Merman a character, running through Oct. 13.

Merman’s Apprentice is a throw-back to the classicBroadway musical – a simple plot, larger-than-life characters, a littleschmaltz, and lots of songs to tell its story.

Plucky 12-year-old Muriel Plakenstein (plucky 17-year-old EmmaSutherland) runs away to Broadway and runs right into her idol Ethel Merman(Dani Innocent Beem). Merman, about to begin a short run in Hello, Dolly!,is impressed with Muriel’s knowledge of her career and takes her under herwing. The next thing you know Plakenstein is set to star in an all-juvenileversion of Dolly! for producer David Merrick (Patrick Barr).Oris she?

Playwright/lyricist Stephen Cole, a friend of Merman’s latein her life, joined up with composer David Evans to come up with this theatricalvalentine to her and to Broadway. As the first full production of the show, co-directorsJaime Love and Larry Williams had no playbook to follow. Adding to theirchallenge, Cole and Evans were also present for the final week of rehearsal, solast-minute changes continued to be made.

The opening night performance went very well, but a few morechanges should be considered. The first act overran a natural concluding momentand continued for two additional songs. The second act ran under thirtyminutes. The acts should be better balanced.

There’s nary a note of any Merman standard to be heard inthe show, but Cole and Evans’s score evokes the feel and sound of classicBroadway with lyrics that are often clever – one jarring anachronism aside. (Ihighly doubt a song ostensibly written in the 1940’s and sung in 1970 wouldreference FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in a dress.)

Emma Sutherland as the title character is a dynamo in therole. She more than holds her own with the estimable Dani Beem, who catches theessence of Ethel Merman while wisely avoiding any attempt at impersonation.There’s a nice ensemble at work with Julia Holsworth and Sean O’Brien a lot offun as Ethel’s Mom and Pop.

A theatre-lover’s treat, the exceedingly pleasant Merman’sApprentice is what All About Eve would have been in the hands ofWalt Disney.

‘Merman’sApprentice’ runs through October 13 at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma CommunityCenter in Sonoma. Thursday through Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm;the Sunday matinee is at 2pm.

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